DR MARTHA Tara Lee is used to people responding with raised eyebrows when she tells them she is a clinical sexologist.
Her family and friends were surprised when she decided to pursue a doctorate in human sexuality at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in the United States.
There were sceptics who predicted that she would fail or that she would fare better with her practice in America.
That was five years ago. Since then, she has counselled more than 900 individuals and couples, conducted many sexuality education workshops and spoken on sexuality topics at conferences around the world.
Having seen a spate of media articles on rising teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, Dr Lee decided that there was something she could do to contribute towards meaningful and important conversations about sex.
She says: “I wondered why sex was never portrayed or talked about in positive ways and decided to do something about it, rather than whine about how life is just like that.”
She worked in corporate communications for eight years before starting her own non-profit organisation to guide young people in their career choices.
Dr Lee, who is in her late 30s, says: “When the non-profit organisation closed down due to numerous challenges, I went back to the drawing board and asked myself what I really wanted to do if I were not afraid.”
She decided to pursue human sexuality studies at the highest level.
Besides her doctorate, Dr Lee also has a certificate in sex therapy from the Florida Sex Therapy Institute as well as life coaching and practical counselling skills.
All these skills and knowledge come in handy in her practice.
“Think of a clinical sexologist as a specialist. When you have sexual questions or concerns, you would want to consult someone who has the greatest knowledge of your particular concerns,” says Dr Lee. “I’m an expert, coach and educator all in one.”
A certified sexologist has to complete 300 to 500 hours of training in the field of human sexuality. As a doctorate holder, Dr Lee has completed between 3,000 and 5,000 hours of training in human sexuality.
Her sessions with clients are usually face-to-face, with the occasional ones over phone or Skype.
There is no physical contact or nudity. Besides coaching, educational videos, sexual aids and diagrams are used as learning tools.
“I don’t have a typical working day. I could have one or many clients in a day.
“I also work from home when not with clients and a large portion of my time is spent on administrative and marketing tasks,” she says.
While every case is treated as confidential, Dr Lee says that she would only notify the authorities if there were clear signs that a client was about to harm himself or others, or was being abused or hurt by another person.
To be successful in her field, she says it is “extremely important” to have a positive attitude towards sexuality and be comfortable with your own body, sexuality expression and personal relationships.
She adds: “Having experience in heartache and failure makes you more humane towards your clients. You also need to have empathy and patience, and be fluent in different languages.
“If you are planning to run your own practice, entrepreneurial skills are required especially those in writing and marketing.”
After practising for five years and countless mentions in the media, Dr Lee occasionally asks herself on tough days why she is still in this field.
The answer is that “the best thing about my job is seeing the glimmer of hope on my clients’ faces and helping them to overcome their sexual difficulties and consequently achieving a more fulfilling life”, she says.